Emotional, lyric-driven slow songs are met with roaring country rock riffage in Francine Honey’s new album To Be Continued…, which follows up 2014’s much-adored Re-Drawn with a more pointed, erudite take on country tonality that is the antithesis of an artificial Nashville twang that has become woefully prominent in the last couple of years. There’s something for almost every taste among these 11 tracks, ranging from traditional folk music to more contemporary blues-rock rhythms, but despite the countless layers of sonic opulence and diverse array of influences worn on her sleeve, everything is held together by the foreboding presence of Honey, who commands our attention with the microphone in a way she never has before. Unquestionably, To Be Continued… starts off strong and dispenses some of the most charming country songs you’ll hear anywhere in Canada or abroad this year.
I first discovered this record after seeing the video for its signature single “Shacked-up Sweetie,” which was recently released to an excellent reception from both American and Canadian country critics. Both the song and the music video are earthy and somewhat unvarnished in contrast to what we saw gracing the airwaves of CMT and similar country outlets in 2018, but the lack of silly, recycled metaphors isn’t the only reason why I thought that this was a prime pick to promote To Be Continued…. “Shacked-up Sweetie” has all of the adrenaline of a raging bar band fueling a crowd of excitable cowboys and ramblers looking to dance the night away, and it’s awesomely reflected in the wedding sequence we see in the video. Anyone who ever said that country can’t produce smart singles with an emotional bend clearly didn’t see Honey and her dynamic grasp of artistry (found in this track) coming.
“Shacked-up Sweetie” roused my interest in To Be Continued…, but it wasn’t until I really spent time studying the personality in the songs “Mamas Take Bad Dreams Away,” “Honey,” the scattered blues jam “Stay,” blistering guitar rock of “Open Road” and humble lyricism in “I Wish” that I realized just how much of a swansong Francine Honey’s latest album really is. On every occasion presented to her in this record, she’s emitting a passionate, unfiltered performance that has more in common with what we’d see on stage than anything I can fathom coming out of a studio. Say what you will of the present state of American country music, but on the Canadian side, this talented young woman is keeping a culture alive one delicate, silky melody at a time.
Somewhere between the album-opening “Snowflakes on My Eyelashes” and the piano sway of “Can’t Break Through to You,” Francine Honey transcends the limitations of stereophonic recording and materializes before our very ears in the form of wistful harmonies that ache with a yearning that is anything but disingenuous. When she’s letting go of her inhibitions in cut-loose riff rock like “Shacked-up Sweetie,” she’s giving up just as much of her soul as she is in more patient ballads like “Space,” and though she’s still got a lot of professional ground left to cover, to say that Honey hasn’t come into her own as an artist simply isn’t possible after absorbing all that To Be Continued… brings to the table.
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